Scams are costing Canadians billions of dollars and are constantly evolving to take advantage of the latest technology and consumer trends.
In March, the spotlight is on fraudsters and how to stop them
Technology can allow us to feel more connected, but for victims of a romance scam, that connection may come with a hefty price tag. Preying on people who seek a new relationship, scammers take their time to engage a potential “love interest” without meeting face to face. Instead, they compile information from social media and other online sources to masquerade as someone with interests and values that match their target.
Once a meaningful bond is formed, they turn an emotional connection into a money grab. At an estimated loss of $17-million, online dating frauds continue to be among the top scams, and experts warn Canadians never to wire money to anyone they haven’t personally met.
The romance scam is only one example of the many traps and schemes devised by fraudsters, who continue to use traditional techniques by telephone, emails and in person, but have also latched on to new technology and online platforms.
“No matter your education, age or income, fraud is a crime that does not discriminate. Fraudsters continue to not only target vulnerable groups such as seniors and new immigrants through traditional methods, but also to adapt their techniques to social media platforms that target the younger generations,” says John Pecman, Canada’s Commissioner of Competition. “It is estimated that from 2014 to 2016, Canadians lost over $290-million to fraudsters.”
Each year, the Competition Bureau works with partners like the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) and the RCMP to educate and encourage Canadians to learn about the signs of fraud and how to protect themselves from scammers. “The Bureau and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre – which is operated by the Bureau, the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police – received almost 90,000 complaints related to fraud and misleading advertising in 2016, compared to just under 70,000 in 2015.”
The number of complaints related to cyber scams is increasing, as scammers are savvy at using the latest platforms and technologies to their advantage.
As electronic communications, activities and transactions are pervading more and more aspects of day-to-day life, Canadians entrust their computers, devices and the Internet with a range of personal and professional information. While they often gain greater convenience and efficiency, they may also increase their risk of fraud.
In 2016, online scams accounted for more than 20,000 complaints and more than $40-million in losses by Canadians. Some of these scams are designed to deceive consumers or businesses into purchasing a product or service based on misinformation – others aim to defraud and coerce victims into paying money.
Mr. Pecman suggests that Canadians remain vigilant and question the authenticity of any representations they see online. He also stresses the importance of reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement agencies.
Some consumers don’t report fraud because they are embarrassed. Businesses may forego alerting the authorities out of concern that appearing vulnerable to scams may damage their reputation or corporate image and undermine client confidence. In some cases, there is a perception that fraud is not a “real crime,” and that law enforcement agencies have more important matters to attend to.
“We estimate that the complaints that we and our partners receive only represent about five per cent of fraud victims,” says Mr. Pecman, who explains that when fraud doesn’t get reported, law enforcement agencies have a harder time obtaining the necessary evidence to catch perpetrators and warn the public.
“We are working hard to protect all Canadians from being misled or deceived. As part of our enforcement work in 2016, we secured over $30-million in penalties and restitution to consumers for false or misleading advertising under the Competition Act, for example,” says Mr. Pecman. “As chair of the Fraud Prevention Forum, the Competition Bureau works with over 80 private- and public-sector organizations who share the common goal of empowering Canadians to recognize, reject and report fraud.”
Mr. Pecman also urges everyone to stay informed about the latest trends. “Remember, you can take steps to protect yourself. Go to our website, look at the tools and information we have available and never ever hesitate to call us. We are here to help,” he adds.
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